Last week’s blog entry that I entitled Self-Care drew some interesting comments that got me thinking. Gary, my husband, who is also a doctor, pointed out that taking care of oneself was a good investment of time and energy. A number of the things that I identified as self-care were doctor recommendations. I can see his perspective. Rather than resenting the time it takes to do the physical therapy or whatever it is that has been prescribed, one could look at it positively. Time spent making yourself healthier, perhaps pain-free, or with improved mental health, is a good use of one’s time and better than a lot of alternatives. Once again, reframing something has its benefits.
I also received useful feedback from Leah, my daughter. She argued that activities I was including in self-care didn’t necessarily belong there. She suggested that self-care can be thought of as activities that ‘fill your cup;’ things that restore your spirit. I like that notion. While I didn’t specifically list brushing my teeth as part of my self-care routine, it was included as part of what I do to get ready in the morning. I don’t think that should really count as self-care, except in the broadest sense. It is necessary to preserve my dental health but doesn’t do much to restore my spirit. Although, replacing morning breath with minty-fresh breath is a big improvement – I think I’m getting too far into the weeds here. It is safe to say I am over-analyzing this.
Back to the main point: Even if I take a broader view of self-care than the one Leah offered, I like the exercise of thinking about what is restorative. It is helpful to be mindful of the activities that energize us because when we do have a bit of time to spare, we can make a good choice as to how to spend it. Sometimes I take the path of least resistance – turn on the television and vegetate. There is a role for that, occasionally. But, more often than not, spending time on the couch watching something mindless is enervating. I feel worse, not better, afterwards.
What does make me feel better or more full? First and foremost, spending time with my children and grandchildren. Sometimes that isn’t possible so making a plan, having something on the calendar, so that I know when I will see them is wonderful. It doesn’t have to be complicated – we don’t need to be doing anything special – actually the less hectic the day, the better. A couple of weeks ago, our son’s family visited, and we went to the playground, came back and hung out. Our granddaughter set up an obstacle course on the living room floor (it involved navigating a path through pretend lava – paper – and hopping over pretend rocks – crayons) and we took turns. She is four years old and she delighted in first showing us what to do, then telling us if we were successful. I loved it. What better way to spend time?
Another thing I find energizing is travel. While it is fabulous to take trips overseas or to cities or landmarks in the United States, again, it doesn’t have to be that elaborate. I’m happy to explore the hilltowns a few miles away, or take a ride in the Catskills. Anything new is interesting to me and if we can find some natural beauty, a lake, some mountain views, all the better. I am happy just to take in the scenery. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a trip to Paris or the Canadian Rockies, but clearly those are rare. The trip we took last fall to the national parks in Utah and Santa Fe was sustaining. I look at the pictures every so often and it brings back the exhilaration of seeing those beautiful places. Being in nature is the best way to restore my equilibrium. When my dad was in the hospital in Florida, and he was terminally ill, I either went to sit by the ocean for a few minutes or walked in the bird sanctuary most days and just breathed. If I hadn’t done that, I don’t know how I would have coped.
Reading, particularly a good novel, makes the cut as self-care, too. Not all my reading experiences, though, fall into this category. I have read stories that annoyed me. Why I stayed with the book is a reasonable question, but sometimes even when the main character is exasperating, I still want to find out what happens. Also, if I am reading non-fiction, it can be challenging to find the right balance between what is stimulating to learn about and what is so disturbing that I have to close the book for a while before continuing. Reading anything about the Trump administration would not fill my cup! I guess reading can be a bit complicated.
I can’t leave this topic without also mentioning art museums – I love them! They can be small, like the Fenimore in Cooperstown or Albany’s own Museum of History and Art, or huge like the Metropolitan in NYC, I find looking at the art in relatively calm, quiet spaces to be relaxing and energizing at the same time. Add an outdoor sculpture garden and I am in my element. I don’t even have to love the art itself, though if I can find a few pieces that speak to me that’s all the better. Walking through rooms where the focus is on what people have created and taking it in, is delightful. I think some people may get hung up on thinking they are missing something if they don’t ‘get it.’ I try not to worry about that – I just like looking and generally will find something that is either just interesting or moving.
As I consider this, I realize that I don’t find spa treatments all that fulfilling. The idea of it is more appealing than the actual experience. I like the end result of a pedicure or manicure, but the process just doesn’t do it for me. On the rare occasion where I have gone with a friend or with Leah, I have enjoyed it much more, but otherwise I would rather take a nice walk.
What do you find restorative? Have you thought about it? We might be making certain assumptions about what fills our cup based on popular culture and it may not really work for us. It would be great if readers would share.